How to Lose a Country

I’m an advocate for preparation. Preparing for the day, the next meeting, a job interview (candidate or interviewer), etc. I’m not always as good as taking the time to prepare for things as I like, but I’ve never lost a country because of it:

The Poster Child for the Importance of Q&A Preparation

Checkpoint Charlie the day the wall fell, because a spokesman mis-spoke

So, if you’re running from meeting to meeting without any time to do your “real work”, let alone being ready for the meeting and knowing what you want to get out of it before you get there; if you spend your days responding to emails and crises and go home at night wondering where your day went; if you habitually work long hours, evenings and weekends, trying to catch up; perhaps you need to slow down and think about how to get back control of your day.

Before you give away the store (or the company, or your country).

Making Meetings Suck Less: Preparation

“The will to win is worthless if you do not have the will to prepare!” — Thane Yost

You might think you don’t have to prepare for every meeting you attend.

You’re wrong.

If you’re going to meetings you get paid to bring your brain. You get paid to be focused and present, not to do check text messages or plan your kid’s birthday party. Every little thing you do that doesn’t help move the meeting forward, everything that distracts you from being present, contributes to make the meeting suck.

Even if your preparation consists of reviewing the agenda and meeting minutes from the last meeting, and making sure you’re completed your actions (the actions you entered into your personal productivity planner and completed when you first received the minutes), it gets you in the right frame of mind to make sure the meeting is productive, effective, and focused.

No matter the size or purpose of a meeting, preparation for all participants is directly proportional to its success. If you are running the meeting this goes double. This means having an agenda published ahead of time, and distributed to all the attendees in enough time for you and them to prepare properly.

Agenda is key. For a complex, multi-day, large meeting you may have to meet to decide the agenda and attendees! This may seem a little Dilbertesque, but if it clearly supports the purpose of the meeting you’re preparing for, then go for it. Having a stand-up meeting in your office a half an hour before an important client meeting is different. That’s called “panicking”.

Don’t be that manager: walking into a key, client facing meeting and winging it. It’s embarrassing for everybody concerned, and the only person you’re fooling is yourself.

Consider the following for your meeting agendas:

  1. Purpose – if you don’t have a clear purpose, then go back to setting goals. Even a weekly staff meeting should have a purpose that lines up with the team’s purpose. It doesn’t hurt to reinforce what the team’s priorities are.
  2. Time & Location – this may include an appropriate map for people coming from out-of-plant or out-of-town.
  3. Attendees – whose attending by name, company, and role as applicable. If you’re the boss make it clear to anyone that can’t attend that you expect them to send a delegate in their place. It’s a great development opportunity!
  4. Special Instructions – instructions for teleconferencing, security, etc.
  5. Description – a short but meaningful description of the purpose of the meeting. Think: “This meeting will be successful if _____.” Keep it to one line.
  6. Agenda Items, including
    1. Start time and responsible person – when to start and who is leading the discussion for this item. The start time for the next item is the end time for the current item.
    2. Description – a short but meaningful description of what to discuss, decide, or debate.
    3. Outcome – if you set up your agenda in three columns, “Outcome” is the blank column for making notes, capturing action items and due dates, etc. An easy way for you and the attendees to keep notes.

The last agenda item should be “clean-up”; a review of the action items (who does what by when), setting or confirming the date and time for the next meeting,etc.

So, if you’re leading a meeting,

  1. Create and publish an agenda of the appropriate level of detail.
  2. Facilitate, take notes, and take part in the meeting. Be present. Depending on the meeting you may wish to delegate the note-taking or facilitation or both to somebody else
  3. Create and publish minutes of the meeting as soon as possible, while the details are still fresh.

Preparing for Meetings – What You Need to Do Before the Meeting Starts

This week’s articles are a re-blog of the year’s most popular posts.You’re running a meeting. What can you do to give it a better chance of success? Do like the Scouts do – be prepared.  Enjoy!

meetings

No matter the size or purpose of a meeting, preparation for all participants is directly proportional to its success. If you are running the meeting this goes double. This means having an agenda published ahead of time, and distributed to all the attendees in enough time for you and them to prepare properly.

Invitations to the meeting should include the agenda as well as any logistical details such as place, refreshments, safety & bathrooms, if projectors are needed, and so on. One of my earlier jobs included doing military work at secure facilities, which meant that meeting invitation included instructions for visit clearances and getting through security. Any special instructions such as this should also be part of the agenda and the meeting invitation.

Agenda is key. For a complex, multi-day, large meeting you may have to meet to decide the agenda and attendees! This may seem a little Dilbert-esque, but if it clearly supports the purpose of the meeting you’re preparing for, then go for it. Having a stand-up meeting in your office a half an hour before an important client meeting has a different name. That’s called “panicking”.

The only thing that’s worse than this might be walking into a meeting for which you are the key participant and winging it. It’s embarrassing for everybody concerned, and the only person you might be fooling is yourself.

In general, your agenda will consist of:

  1. Purpose – the purpose of this meeting is clearly stated up front for everybody to see. If you don’t have a clear purpose, then go back to setting goals. Even a weekly staff meeting should have a purpose that lines up with the team’s purpose. It doesn’t hurt to reinforce what the team’s priorities are.
  2. Time & Location – where and when to meet. This may include an appropriate map for people coming from out-of-plant or out-of-town. If you can include a specific map from their hotel to your building that’s even better.
  3. Attendees – whose attending by name, company, and role as applicable. This may seem like overkill for a weekly staff meeting where everybody knows each other. Still, who you’re expecting to attend is clearly stated up front. You should make it clear to anyone that can’t attend (vacations and conflicts sometimes happen) that you expect them to send a delegate in their place. If you’re lucky enough to receive such information for a meeting somebody else is organizing, ignore it at your own peril.*
  4. Special Instructions – if any, instructions for dialling in by teleconference, arriving half an hour early to get through security, who to contact in case of an issue, etc., all goes here.Start time and responsible party – when to start and who is leading the discussion for this item. The start time for the next item is the end time for the current item. This allows attendees to prepare what they need to, for the time allotted to them.
  5. Description – a short but meaningful description of the purpose of the meeting. Keep in mind how you will know if the meeting was successful when crafting this one-liner.
  6. Outcome – I always set up my agendas in a table format with three columns: one for start time & responsible party (shortened to “Led By:”), the second for the description, and the third for an outcome. The “Outcome” column is blank, but big enough to write notes into during the meeting. This includes action items if any, who was responsible for that action or actions, and the due date for the action. This way I could keep notes on the agenda for writing minutes after the meeting, or other participants could keep track for themselves.
  7. Agenda Items, including
    1. Start time and responsible party – when to start and who is leading the discussion for this item. The start time for the next item is the end time for the current item. This allows attendees to prepare what they need to, for the time allotted to them.
    2. Description – a short but meaningful description of what to discuss, decide, or debate.
    3. Outcome – I always set up my agendas in a table format with three columns: one for start time & responsible party (shortened to “Led By:”), the second for the description, and the third for an outcome. The “Outcome” column is blank, but big enough to write notes into during the meeting. This includes action items if any, who was responsible for that action or actions, and the due date for the action. This way I could keep notes on the agenda for writing minutes after the meeting, or other participants could keep track for themselves.

In summary, be ready to:

  1. Create and publish an agenda of appropriate detail and timeliness to allow all participant to prepare for the meeting themselves.
  2. Facilitate, take notes, and take part in the meeting. Depending on the meeting you may wish to delegate the note-taking or facilitation or both to somebody else
  3. Create and publish minutes of the meeting as soon as possible after the meeting. I suggest you do this immediately after the meeting while the details are still fresh. The longer you put this off, the lessor the quality of the minutes, and the less well prepared you will be for the next meeting. Block out the time to do this.

You might also be interested in:

How to prepare a useful agenda – setting the intent and desired outcome for a meeting will in itself make it more useful
Running the meeting – how to start on time, stick to the agenda, end on time, and handle intentional and unintentional sabotage
Laptops in meetings – just don’t – why bring laptops to meetings is a career killer

*Who didn’t attend, sent a delegate, or teleconference in instead of attending in person can sometimes tell you a lot about the meeting’s strategic & political context. I don’t advocate that you play games to get ahead, but ignoring the “politics” of a meeting is just wilful ignorance. That’s fine if you like being stuck in your current position forever. Your choice. But that’s a different post.